Saturday, April 02, 2005

New Filmmaking In Malaysia

This morning I found myself down at the
Finas (National Film Development Corporation) compound at an indecently early hour. My friend Wan had invited me for a special screening and discussion of a new film – Sanctuary – by the young director, Ho Yuhang. It was also a chance to promote our own new film series which begins next week, featuring "New Voices Of Asian Cinema", showcasing some of the vibrant younger filmmakers from the region. Wan and I are planning a book project which will involve conversations and interviews with the new generation of Malaysian directors and so the morning was also a chance to make contacts.

To tell you the truth, Sanctuary was no great shakes as a film. To be sure, the themes that Ho's drama touches on are sociologically important: the alienation and despair of many young, working class Chinese who are relatively marginalised in the trope of Malaysian modernity. The film makes a decent job of representing both the loneliness and disorientation of its protagonists. But ultimately I found it all rather unengaging. Ho hasn't yet found a compelling narrative device which makes you sufficiently care for the lives and losses of his rather one-dimensional characters. Still, the panel discussion was lively enough, not least the rather more enthusiastic assessment of the wonderful Yasmin Ahmad whose own film, Sepet, has caused such a stir here. Yasmin's own account of the morning – and a funny anecdote about the loss of the film's poster from the walls of Finas can be found here.

Beyond the specific merits or otherwise of Sanctuary there is a great deal of hope for the future of Malaysian filmmaking. There are problems, of course. Afterwards there was a lot of talk about the underdeveloped state of scriptwriting and storyboard development; independent filmmakers find distribution problematic; and treatments of so-called taboo subjects are still subject to Malaysia's hypocritical censorship culture. But good films are being made; a new audience is being nurtured; and independent cinema spaces are being created. There is a new dynamism at play. And that can only bode well for the future.


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